China's Global Ambitions: Past, Present and Future

Howard W. French, Journalist; Author; Photographer; Associate Professor, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University. In conversation with Karl Friedhoff.

China's Global Ambitions: Past, Present, and Future

With a history spanning millennia, China can play the long game. And it has been, according to Howard French. By championing globalization and Eurasian integration, rapidly expanding its military capabilities, and making contentious regional territorial claims, among others, China is asserting its previously-obscured ambitions. As America reassesses the terms of its global engagement, how will Beijing pursue its historical objectives? How does the past inform China’s current actions and future plans, and how should President Trump interact with Beijing?

Howard French’s new book, Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power, will be available for sale and signing from The Book Cellar.

Speaker Bio


7:30 a.m.
Registration and continental breakfast

7:45 a.m.
Presentation and Q&A

8:45 a.m.
Adjournment and book signing

Mic Check

Mic Check with Howard French


What is the best book/essay/article about foreign policy or a global issue you’ve read this year and why?

I would offer John Pomfret’s The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom, which is an unusually rich and enterprising look at the deep roots of bilateral relations, both economic and political, between China and the United States. Pomfret’s book will be a revelation for many in the way it details the many decisive ways the two countries have impacted each other, going back to early American history. Equally fascinating are the most modern elements of his account, which reveal recurrent patterns, from US administration to administration of hard line campaign rhetoric giving way to relaxation, pragmatism, and further rapprochement. We’ve seen the fastest of these cycles yet with the new Trump administration.

Who would you most want to debate over dinner?

I’m not much of one for debates, and would prefer to structure something like this as a conversation, as much as anything for the opportunity for me to learn from people whose erudition I prize. As I’ve gotten further and further into my career in journalism and become more interested in writing books, I’ve come to prefer academics and other thinkers to actors. One of the people I most wish I could converse with is the unfortunately recently deceased C.A. Bayly, whose book The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914 explores the formation of the familiar world order and the Western built international system that underpins it. The creation of this system looms large in my own discussion of China’s return to national greatness.

What is one thing our audience might find surprising about you?

I am a documentary photographer, and if I could figure out a way to make a living from this medium, I would love to do nothing but photography for a period of a few years at least. Alas.

What one piece of advice would you offer to those interested in a career in global affairs or your field?

Invest in diverse language skills. Steadily deepen your familiarity with the unfamiliar. This means not only through study, but in terms of one's social circles and contacts, as well.

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